Process / Selecting Assessments / Constructing Rubrics

Constructing Rubrics

Rubric is a term that in education has assumed the meaning of what most of us know as performance criteria. That is, what are the criteria or standards that we establish that allow us to evaluate student performance or work? Rubrics lay out levels or gradations of quality to which we compare student performance. A rubric allows a teacher to make a judgment that, more or less, is based on pre-set descriptions of behavior that are above, at, or below acceptable levels of performance.

Most of us are used to grading systems where we award an “A” or some other letter grade or a percentage. Over time these letter grades and percentages have assumed a certain amount of meaning so that most of us “know an “A” or “C” when we see one.” However, if we think about this carefully, we can see that these letters and grades in fact do not have much more than general and vague meaning and can be poor descriptors of what a student has learned.

Informed professional teachers usually find assigning grades the least tasteful part of teaching. Many times we find ourselves making very important and weighty decisions about students based on evidence and standards that are not clearly defined, are sometimes irrelevant to the task at hand ( She did outstanding work last time, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt this time), are not applied equally to all students, or are just flat-out pulled from the air.

A benefit of using rubrics is that they force a level of description of behavior that alleviates much of the guesswork. Also, rubrics have the potential for clear communication of what is expected by a teacher, thus enhancing student performance. This latter outcome may be the most beneficial.

A very good in-class exercise is to have your students determine the standards for an assignment and the weights for each standard. Use the table creation feature in your word processor and project it so the whole class can see the development of the rubric. You are almost guaranteed to get higher student performance by using this strategy.

Rubric Formats

Generally, rubrics are presented in two formats. The format will either be your choice or that of your school, department, or others teaching the same course you do.

Table or Matrix:

This format takes on the appearance of a table or matrix, where criteria and the different levels of acceptable performance are spelled out in the rows and columns.

Criterion Standard

  Exceeds Meets Does Not Meet
Writing objectives(10 points) Explicit, authentic, teachable, measurable, (9-10 points) Explicit, measurable
(7-8 points)
Vague, non-behavioral (6 or less)

List of Standards:

In this presentation of rubrics, a description of the standard or performance outcome is followed by descriptions of behavior at the various levels:

Performance Outcome:

Writes behavioral objectives that clearly communicate intent and inform teaching and assessment.

Descriptions of Behavior:

3. Objectives are clear, explicit, measurable, descriptive of outside of classroom application so appropriate strategies and assessment can be built.

2. Objective is behaviorally stated, explicit, and measurable.

1. Objective not stated in behavioral terms, or not explicit, or not measurable.

The most difficult part of this process is writing descriptions of the various levels of the standards. This is probably best done by a team of teachers who teach similar courses. There is no rule on how many levels for a standard. Generally three or four levels are suggested. Five or more require splitting of hairs that complicates things and requires extremely specific statements that lose meaning.

Once rubrics are written it is fairly easy to see how values or weights can be assigned to the descriptions which may facilitate the assigning of grades (see table above). However, this will require conscious decision making about these standards/objectives in terms of percentage of contribution to a grade. Not all standards are equal.

Steps in Writing Rubrics

  1. Identify the separate standards that will serve as performance standards. These may be objectives already written by you or other instructors or they may be generated by thinking through the elements of a good paper, project, essay item, etc.. You may have to break out these statements by doing a task analysis to get statements to a point where they clearly communicate what students must do.
  2. Decide on how many levels of performance you want to identify. The examples above used three.
  3. Choose a format, either the table/matrix or the listing of standards or any format you like.
  4. Write the appropriate descriptions of acceptable behavior at the different level of performance. The table format requires shorter descriptions, but it is easy to lose meaning when writing short statements.
  5. Assign a weight to the whole assignment, then assign each standard a weighted value and then within each standard, assign weight for exceeds expectations, meets, does not meet.
  6. Put it all together. Show it to a colleague to make sure you have communicated accurately.
  7. Unless the rubric will be used for a “test”, share the rubric with your students.

Online Rubric Makers


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